My Take: Being poor on Christmas
December 17th, 2011
11:59 PM ET

My Take: Being poor on Christmas

Editor's Note: Tangela Ekhoff is an inspirational speaker, comedy performer and ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. She blogs about marriage, motherhood and life in Oklahoma at Homegirl on the Range.

By Tangela Ekhoff, Special to CNN

(CNN) - For my husband and me, the crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning. It’s enough to breach the dams in my eyes. Every year, my husband (the better shopper) picks one big-ticket gift for our boys, the one we call “the Showstopper!”

The Showstopper is the present that is either No. 1 on their wish list or the one they didn’t even know they wanted, until they make confetti of the shiny paper that conceals the happiness wrapped inside. The Showstopper is THE gift. It’s so awe-inspiring that it causes an intermission to present-opening and signals the point when the boys forsake all other gifts to play with the Showstopper. Last year, it was Chuck the Talking Dump Truck.

This year, there will be no Showstopper.

I wish I could say we are avoiding the Showstopper out of solidarity for Americans who are too poor to afford Christmas. I wish we were that socially conscious. This year, the Showstopper will not be part of the Ekhoff family Christmas, because this year, we are the poor.

We moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to my husband’s childhood home of Owasso, Oklahoma, with high hopes and great expectations for opportunity. It is not going as well as we hoped. We have applied for several hundred jobs between us. I was rejected for a job at a chicken restaurant. I am from Alabama. I was born with a frying pan in one hand and a hunk of lard in the other. I’m still mad about not getting that job.

In a former life, my husband was a computer technician. In this life, he slings pizza, rakes leaves, shovels snow, cuts grass and bakes cakes, but it still is not enough money to pay for basics, let alone any utility bills. I use both of my worthless college degrees as microfiber cloths to fight grime as a house cleaner, and out here in Oklahoma, people are not as willing to pay for this service as they are in the South. I speak publicly and perform comedy, but gigs are harder to come by than we originally anticipated.

We thought the move to Oklahoma would turn it all around and send us sashaying back into our middle-class life. Instead, it has given us the final shove into the abyss of poverty. For us, 2011 has been the Worst. Year. Ever.

This is also the first year in the history of our family that we will not buy gifts for some unknown poor child as part of an Angel Tree project. Every year, we would buy hats, socks, mittens, jackets and/or toys for some poor child.

This year, at some church or business in our town, there are two construction paper Christmas stockings hanging on an Angel Tree with our sons’ wish list printed on them. This year, our sons are “those poor kids.” This year, if there is a Showstopper, it will not be purchased by us but by a generous, anonymous individual or family with the means to help us, the underprivileged family.

On the Christian calendar, the season leading up to Christmas is known as Advent. During Advent, Christians pray and light candles to remind us to wait expectantly and prepare for the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ. This year, Advent is more meaningful to me than ever. This year, our family has lost so much, and I continually pray for a miracle. As our family awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we anticipate and long for a better world not just for us but for others who suffer in the “new” economic reality: poverty.

My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially. Yes, it’s selfish. I am grateful the Angel Tree project is available to provide my children and hundreds of children in my town with presents this Christmas. But, selfishly, I pray that next year there will be no Angel Tree. My husband and I are both intelligent and hard-working. We want nothing more than to provide for our children.

As we struggle with the new normal, we pray (yes, selfishly) that during this Advent, as we wait for Jesus’ light to shine upon the world, that a sliver of that miraculous light will shine on our little family. Like a child anticipating the rapturous joy of opening presents on Christmas morning, I hold on to my faith and anticipate a rebirth, a renewal, a restoration for our family.

I expect a miracle. And in this season of Advent, miracles happen every single day.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tangela Ekhoff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Christmas

soundoff (1,294 Responses)
  1. Ant

    TheSteve. What an dick. Sounds to me like she and her husband have done and are doing nothing but busting their asses. Maybe you have no kids or maybe you're just doing really well. But through no fault of your own the tides can turn. And just because you want to see the joy on your kid's face when they see that Santa has come doesn't make your a greedy heathen. Christmas is a dual holiday. No one's talking about a lexus or a diamond ring, and "spoiling" your children isn't having them unwrap presents. We're talking about the magic of the season, whether it's Jesus or Santa. They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • TheSteve

      If you must know, I do have 3 children and I am a disabled Vet yet i don't let that stop me from providing for my family and living within my means..not living above them. I don't wait until a certain day to give my kids a "SHOWSTOPPER'...if they need something they get it. If they want something they have to earn it. (I will let you read that last sentence again so you can understand it). My kids get minimal gifts on Xmas...we don't decorate the house, we don't have a tree. I am going to school full time and working full time. My wife is going to school full time and working full time. We are all doing this, plus sending a child to college and two in high school. If you know how to manage money you can survive in most situations. It just seems that the author of this article needs to go get lessons on how to manage their money properly.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  2. UScOlLaPsE

    She's in the dumps because there will be no "showstopper" gift for her kids this year? I'm assuming her kids will still be receiving some gifts. There are many poor families who can't even afford a Christmas tree, much less buy gifts to put under the tree. Funny how the middle class suddenly see there's a problem with poverty and the way the economy works when they lose their jobs and cozy middle class lifestyles. New flash: It's always been a problem. Like the rich, the middle class think they're above it. Guess what? EHHHH! Wrong answer. The rich are, YOU'RE NOT. That's what the 99 percent occupy movement is all about.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Mike

      What is the occupy movement all about? I've still been trying to figure that out...jealousy that people make more money than you? Anger because as a poor person, you claim that IF you were rich, you'd help ALL the poor people. Maybe if we lived in a communist country where the principles of government say that wealth is spread around you'd be happier? Because, I mean, China, Cuba, etc have no poverty and the streets there are paved with gold and the sweet candy smiles of happy children

      December 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • UScOlLaPsE

      Mike, I don't get what YOU people are all about? Is it that you are afraid that the 99 percent has woken up and realized the all the wealth of the 1 percent was created by the grossly underpaid 99 percent? Or the government and the 1 percent (essentially the same thing) have rigged the system so the 99 percent in total servitude to the 1 percent? Or maybe you're deathly afraid that the 99 percent finally realizes that this crooked system works because they keep playing along with this crooked game and now have decided to band together to put a stop to it, in which case, the 1 percent gravy train will come to a screeching halt? Mike, if you're not part of the 1 percent, it makes you a tool of the 1 percent. A gullible stupid LOSER!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • UScOlLaPsE

      Mike, I don't get what YOU people are all about? Is it that you are afraid that the 99 percent have woken up and realized all the wealth of the 1 percent was created by the grossly underpaid 99 percent? Or the government and the 1 percent (essentially the same thing) have rigged the system so the 99 percent are in total servitude to the 1 percent? Or maybe you're deathly afraid that the 99 percent finally realize that this crooked system works because they keep playing along with this crooked game and now have decided to band together to put a stop to it, in which case, the 1 percent gravy train will come to a screeching halt? Mike, if you're not part of the 1 percent, it makes you a tool of the 1 percent. A gullible stupid LOSER!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  3. Jackie

    I hope that you are restored financially, but that you celebrate Christmas like you are a poor person rich in spirit for the rest of your life, regardless of how much money you possess. Wants versus needs, that's what this recession has taught me.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  4. JD

    judging by her picture, perhaps if she laid off all the food there would be more for gift.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Fatteh Fatima

      Well that certainly was a tasteful comment...not!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  5. grace

    because the meaning of Christmas is getting presents.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Bollocks

      Yeah... pathetic, isn't it?

      December 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Give them a library card.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  7. JD

    My goodness, we've become a spoiled society. So what if you don't get a "showstopper" gift. I went several years without such presents, but I've worked hard my entire life and can now give my children wonderful presents, but the best ones are the ones you can't buy.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  8. Wall Street Bankster

    I think a better article would have been: "Being Rich But Poor in Spirit"

    Combine that with the 36% bonus average for CEO's this year.

    Go go go go OWS!!!
    Go go go go OWS!!!
    Go go go go OWS!!!
    Go go go go OWS!!!
    Go go go go OWS!!!

    The 99% are with you all the way to the whitehouse!!!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • HootchieMommaSpreadsHerDirtyLove

      You guys need to occupy a restroom and cleanse yourself of all that crap.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  9. Samsword

    Though sometimes we get selfish, I think that Christmas CAN be a time to remember others' needs before our own.


    December 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • jake

      Well put.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  10. gretchen

    Excuse the typo- so these people bought hats, (not "hates") for angel tree– Good job, self- anyway, I am still astounded that this woman said some of the things she did here. It shows how materialistic many in America really are, if there are lots of people who would have any sympathy for this person or her family. Lady, did you know there are people who sell their daughters in Thailand for a small tv to watch back at their tiny village hut? Seems you already wasted much earning in years past on spoiling your children badly. My kid drove a school bus for a few years, and the worst kid he ever had, known to the whole bus lot, and a constant discipline problem at his elementary school, was a kid raised as materialistically as this woman seems to describe. This kid did things no other kid came close to, endangering my son's bus run month after month. The district would not remove him from the regular elem school, or bus, until over 7 months into the year- and I think I know why( everyone suspected the same- because he was a minority.) My son wrote the brat up almost 30 times and the policy was for removal after (at max) 5 times I think.
    I swear, the similarities strike me here- everything was surface glitz to his parents. They had a nicer home and things than anyone in my family ever had, and would not discipline their child. All the other children hated the boy. He was ready for juvenile hall at age 9. I wouldn't be surprised if there's stuff going on in a simialr vein with this silly family. Go ahead, people, spew how much you hate me now. I honestly don't care because I know what I have seen, year after year going on here in the US.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • BonnieBog

      Gretchen- I am sorry that the world has treated you so badly that you have lost your sense of humanity. You, along with the Ekhoffs, will be in my prayers this Christmas.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Narloc

      Yeah, you'll be in her totally useless prayers! Doesn't that just give you hope?

      December 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  11. Cheyanne Cody

    This world is not a good place to be. Your story reflects stories of millions of other people. It is especially sad when the holidays approach. At least you have your husband and children. Mine was murdered.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  12. Tim

    & peple think that we will vofe for Obama again? Things are just so rosey!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • MikeMazzla

      If you think Obama is to blame for this mess then you know zilch about economics....

      December 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  13. Heidi

    Maybe that cat that inherited 13 million could help you out.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  14. john

    Christmas makes an equal amount of people miserable as it does happy. It's become an asinine, fabricated festival based on a litany of untruths, inaccuracies and avarice. At least her greed reveals the true pagan nature of Christmas. Yep, Christmas brings out the true nature of materialistic hypocrites, aka American evangelicals..

    December 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • TheSteve


      December 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • kat

      It's greedy to want to provide for your children yourself? To not have to rely on the kindness of strangers to buy your children mittens? You've read but a snippet of this woman's life, enough to know that she is now struggling, not enough to know how she raises her children.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Manuel J.

      I dare say most Americans like you have, whether they believe in Chris or not, are greedy. When was the last time you gave of your time or treasure to help those in need or to serve your country in some capacity?

      Unfortunately, greed is an American trait for most Americans... including you John. I suspect you've not done much, if anything, worthwhile in your life.

      And before you try to disparage me, I served my country and try to do my part in helping those less fortunate.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  15. TheSteve

    Glad to see that you cannot spoil your children this year. Now maybe you can teach them about hard work and what rewards there are when you bust your ass.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Susan G.

      You are a jerk! Every parent gives their child a "big ticket" item for Christmas, however for some families it might be Shoots and Ladders another family it might be an iPod. It depends on what "big ticket" means to them. I'm sure your parents "spoiled" you at some point!!! This family along with many others are struggling and the Holiday Season will be heartbreaking for them!! You have a lot of nerve to judge them. Grow Up!!!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  16. RA

    Every day should be Christmas. One doesn't need one day of the year filled with gifts to make them happy. One should try to be happy every day of the year without the need for gifts. For me, the biggest success as a parent is seeing my kids smile and have fun without having gifts. And when I buy them something, I usually get more joy out of them when they get the 1 dollar animal shaped eraser or when they throw a 5 cent water balloon out the balcony vs. when they get the big ticket item.

    Success as a parent should come when you can help your kids be happy without gifts. Christmas is a great excuse to get together with family and friends, but if there are no gifts, that's totally fine.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  17. MabyeImStupid

    As a parent, I have to admit, there is nothing more precious than seeing the look in your kids eye for the few moments that they are truly enthralled by something, especially when it is something you did for them. The problem is that it only lasts a few minutes/hours/days and they want another hit.

    I don't have answers, I'm still looking. But life experiences may be something to consider, doing something memorable, does not have to be expensive. Road trip to a near by state park? Museum? cheesy attraction? Making something at home? Teaching them to cook, etc. Depends on the kid too. I know my kid acts like she hates it when I try to teach her stuff or do something new and different, but she remembers it much longer than any present we have ever gotten her.

    We shelled out the money and took a trip overseas, something my kid whined endlessly about beforehand. Now it something she cherishes as one of her most favorite memories and the few inexpensive things we bought are her most prized possessions.

    Just a thought.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Yes You Are

      Yes you ARE STUPID! Who can afford gas for a vacation? Who can afford a trip overseas? One of the last things people hold onto are their tv cable service and internet connections and phones. Stay-cations are what poor people do.
      Your pie-in-the-sky, rose-colored ideals on how to raise children only work if you can afford the time and money required to implement them. Working two jobs without any vacation days does not give anyone the time or the money because it can all go right back out the door to pay for childcare, medical bills, and all the expenses needed to keep those jobs that can disappear in a split-second.
      Unrealistic ideas are stupid, stupid.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Alex

      Uh, No they aren't. "Yes you are", maybe you need to find another job. I was smart, I knew what my profession should be at an early age and I strove for that goal. I worked hard, and was rewarded properly. I'm young, own a house, and take vacations every year. Like maybeImStupid said, I plan to teach my children through travel, lessons, and experiences as it's the best way to foster a growing mind. You keep putting your children down because you think it's "too expensive" and you'll just continue the cycle: Your children will be no better off than you are. Glad my parents decided that was not what they wanted for me, and I plan to do the same with my children when I'm ready. Btw, you don't need to travel to Hawaii to have your children experience something great, so before you tout off not having the money, sometimes it doesn't take much to save to make a great vacation or lesson.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Yes You Are Also Stupid

      Can anyone say "cognitive dissonance"?
      Without money, all you say is BS. And your arrogance and putrid ideas are pathetic. Making snide suggestions based on your assumptions of someone else you know nothing about is just one of the most stupid and disgusting things I've ever seen on the internet.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Susan G.

      Alex, You will be lucky if you still have job when you have kids. Did you note that this family has two college degrees and did have money, they were just like you! You are young and you don't get it, it all could slip away, just like that! MabyelmStupid, adventures and events are great memory makers but so is the memory that Santa didn't leave you anything under the tree!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  18. Jayna

    This year has been the worst for my family as well. My husband has worked at a factory for 33 yrs and I was a R.N. for 22 yrs. Had to give up my career due to a terminal illness. This is the main culprit of our money woes. I struggle with the reality that I am a financial burden. But suicide would be the easy way out and selfish. We cannot even pay our bills each month and are out of options. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my family and they are so understanding and ask for nothing in return. My first grandbaby is due any day now. Living long enough to hold and spoil him will be just what the Doctor ordered! Good luck and best wishes to all of you who struggle

    December 18, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  19. Lisa

    I hope that Tangela Ekhoff and her entire family have a Merry Christmas. Her children are so lucky to have two parents who love them. I would have traded all my Christmas toys for a Dad. In my opinion they need to realize that already have the real "showstopper" all year long.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  20. buffalogal36

    You have your health,two wonderful sons,a husband that is loving,considerate,and a great helpmate. While earning your degree did you forget the "reason" for the season? Thank God for what HE'S given you in the past.Believing in GOD means to adhere to,Trust in,and Rely On HIM.......We have all had the most difficult time financially this past year; you are not alone. It has brought me a lot closer to GOD. Sounds like you need to re-prioritize things in your life. Bake a beautiful Birthday cake for Jesus Christmas Eve and have it ready to celebrate HIS birthday with your husband and sons. Oh, and one more thing; remember that thermometers have DEGREES also,and look where some of them end up !! Merry Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Sherron

      PLEASE STOP WITH THE GOD CRAP!! See how far God gets you if you don't get out there and hustle!! That's reality NOT GOD!!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • kat

      Why are you on a religious blog complaining about God? Where is the logic and reason in that?

      December 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • ggggggg


      December 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.